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Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > 2009 > 2009 Issue 08 > Interview with Dr. Deuntemduang Na-Chiangmai

Interview with Dr. Deuntemduang Na-Chiangmai

Citylife last interviewed ex Lady Mayor Dr. Deuntemduang Na-Chiang Mai in August 2007 as she was poised to become the next Chiang Mai city mayor. After a tumultuous two years, we ask her what hurdles she faced and what her achievements were during her two year stint.

Cityife:
There was a DVD released recently of you and your partner in a compromising situation. Would you care to comment on it?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
Politics is a tough business; it gets even tougher when you stand in the way of the interests of some groups who are more concerned about their personal well-being than that of the city and its residents.

I am determined to keep going. I took on this job knowing that it would be tough. I am not going to be intimidated easily with this sort of thing. It’s why people put me in the mayor’s office – because they wanted someone who they knew would fight to get the right things done for this city, despite the many dark forces that are out there.

I have been separated from my husband for many years, and both he and I have lived separate lives, in different houses. I would ask that I be allowed to live a normal social life and that my private moments stay private.

Cityife:
The Election Commission (EC) declared your application void because you did not have the correct housing registration form, can you explain?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
I am pleased to say that I have been 100% compliant with the guidelines given to me by the Election Commission. Unfortunately, there was a disagreement of interpretation of election laws and bylaws between the Supreme Administrative Court in Bangkok and the EC. Both the Chiang Mai and Bangkok courts have ruled that I have followed the guidelines given to me by the EC. Unfortunately, the court in Bangkok also said the guidelines given to me by the EC were wrong, which is why we now have to go for another election!

In essence, the issue and the differences of interpretation are about whether the documents that I submitted actually prove that I am a resident of Chiang Mai, or not. According to what I was told, I had to either have a housing registration form for one year prior to application or pay tax on a piece of property in the municipal area for three years. I indeed paid tax on a piece of property which I rented, however, it is now being disputed whether it was my tax to pay, or that of the landlord. There was also one stamp on the tax form which was not there – a common practice, and one which many politicians today have failed to comply with – but I was singled out. The central court has now asked the governor to decide my fate, but he has yet to do so. I therefore decided to stop working pending resolution to this matter so that I can open up the whole matter and avoid any suspicion of conflict of interest. [Ed. during the interview a messenger arrived with a document from the EC declaring her election a clean election. However, matters are still being passed from authority to authority with no resolution in sight.]

It’s quite a funny situation actually… With my surname, and a proven family history in Chiang Mai of some 700 years, it’s hard to think where else I could possibly stand for election and claim residency.

Cityife:
If you had the chance to do it all again what would you do differently?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
Many many things. Firstly I wouldn’t spend a whole year figuring out how to be efficient. I relied on the municipal council, which is in opposition to me, to approve of projects which they failed to do on nearly every count (I received 1.5 million for the loy krathong festival, the previous mayor received 10, I received zero baht for New Year, the previous mayor received millions). I finally realised that I had the authority to do small things, one at a time without having to wait for their veto. I promised to focus on caring for the wise spending of the people’s tax and won the election on an anti corruption and pro-transparent platform. These things I believe I achieved to some extent. I initiated a scheme to provide doctors and nurses – as well as rental of wheelchairs, crutches and oxygen tanks – for home care for the poor. So far 1,000 people have benefited. I call it proactive healthcare. Government money was also not enough to provide lunch, milk and books to all children in municipal schools. I have made sure that these basic items are available to all – and some schools outside our municipality too. I have also always felt sorry for children of Burmese or ethnic minorities with no Thai ID. Therefore all municipal schools now accept these children, so far 30% of our schools have students with no Thai nationality – my friends tease me about our ‘international schools’! I also waited for the public sector and organisations to reach out to me, but finally learned to be more proactive and aggressive, which also bore results. I was also too sensitive to factions and feelings of municipal staff, when in fact, I found that they just wanted to get on with things and get the work done.

Cityife:
What was your pet project which you were most proud of?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
I focused on the poor and was pleased to have created the Community Organisation Development Institute which has helped improve the standards of living in 60 out of 86 slum communities. We help squatters to negotiate long term leases with landlords such as temples or the Fine Arts Department, we have improved garbage disposal systems, cleaned up the area, find displaced people new areas to live, painted houses etc. What I do may not be very visible, but it helps those who need it most.

Cityife:
What is the biggest problem which you think Chiang Mai faces?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
Economy. I really feel that Chiang Mai can no longer simply rely on tourism to survive. I want Chiang Mai to be a professional city where professionals come to work and live. For instance we need to improve our internet infrastructure to support programmers and IT professionals. Or create an environment to attract artists. And of course we need to invest in the ongoing and long term sustainability of the environment. We can’t sit smug because we are greener than Bangkok, we need to set our standards higher. If I become mayor again I will have much more bargaining power. Because I had this EC decision hanging over my head, I didn’t receive 100% support from people, but if I can be guaranteed four years, then I can really be effective. I will open up policy and debate it with citizens and put it forward to the council. If they veto these matters as they used to, then I will publish it in the papers so that they will have to answer directly to the people. The past two governments – for political reasons – slashed all project funding (Mae Kha Canal cleanup and public transportation, so I am hopeful of receiving more support from this government. The municipality has a 1 billion baht budget a year, 40% goes towards salary for the 3,000 employees, 20% towards education, nearly 40% goes to upkeep and maintaining our 40 square kilometre city which includes a hospital, 11 schools, stadiums and much more, only a few percent goes towards projects.

Cityife:
You seem to have been in conflict with the municipal council, can you explain?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
When the current municipal council was voted into office it was clear that they were in opposition, as they were the same team that worked with the previous mayor. In the past, council members would enlist municipal staff to join their team. In fact councillors have no management powers at all, their job is to simply hold meetings and pass motions – that goes for me as well. I therefore put a halt to this practice. The municipal staff are career bureaucrats and shouldn’t be privy to the whims of those of us who are guests, elected into office every few years. I have encouraged the staff to think for themselves, have differing opinions, speak up and I hope that they take this attitude of independence from political influence and utter professionalism into the future.

Cityife:
Do you think you are tough enough to play politics?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
After what I have been through I am even more motivated than ever to follow through on my desire to serve our city – that’s why I intend to stand again – for Chiang Mai, for those who don’t want to throw in the towel in the face of dirty tactics, and for all the women in politics (there are fewer than 10% of women in parliament).

Cityife:
What have you done to combat corruption?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
I have taken a firm stand against all underhand practices and my staff knows clearly where I stand on this and that this is a zero-tolerance area for me. Project owners that are not delivering to agreed specifications are now finding themselves in court. I have currently some four major cases in court or arbitration. Some tens of millions of baht are being returned to the municipality because of investigations that I have fully supported.

Cityife:
In your interview with Citylife in 2007 you promised to focus on flood prevention, garbage disposal systems, public transportation, public parks, foot paths and bill boards…did you achieve your goals?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
In the first year of my term my focus was on preventing the terrible problems of flooding as well as tackling the issue of poor garbage collection. I am pleased to say that both of these issues were effectively addressed, but still we need to keep working at them if the problems are not to return. I wish I had the time of my full term so that I could also have addressed the other issues as well.

I wish to explain a few points further. Some things I simply couldn’t do such as the garbage disposal system and public transportation, both of which require a central government budget. I was also stuck with a few very bad contracts signed by the previous administrations such as rental of public bill board space for as little as 200,000 baht per year for a nine year contract. I need to get rid of these old contracts and sign new ones which would benefit the city, not rich business interests. Up to 50 court cases are under way concerning illegal signage. I am also suing many buildings which have been built without proper permits.

Cityife:
What about the latest change to the Chang Puak Fountain Gate?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
That is not in my jurisdiction, it belongs to the Fine Arts Department.

Cityife:
Have you tackled city zoning?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
We act according to the law and we enforce it, however, we do not form policy. Parking, buildings and permits for condos, these are all issues which are outside my jurisdiction, but with time, I would like to campaign for change.

Cityife:
What is the point of those water fans placed in odd places around the city?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
A company offered to do it to help ventilate the areas. I was sceptical but agreed to let them do it for only 5 months to test the idea and that we would not pay anything unless we decided to continue with it after 5 months. We can now clearly see they are not effective and I have already instructed their removal.

Cityife:
You announced not long after taking office that you would take in comments and suggestions from expatriate residents, however, many people complained that they never got a response.

Dr. Deuntemduang:
I regret this and realise that I need to get a native speaker of English who is very familiar with my work and the situation in Chiang Mai to assist me in this matter. I made the mistake of assigning it to officials who may not have had enough language skills to be able to do this well. It’s something that I aim to fix immediately if given the opportunity to continue my term.

Cityife:
There was the controversy over the road widening schemes. Did you support it?

Dr. Deuntemduang:
I have firmly opposed the plan from the start. It was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning, Ministry of Interior. They proposed the expansion of 30 roads, it had nothing to do with the municipality, though we facilitated between the public and the ministry.

Much of what my team and I do are administrative works and not publicly visible. I believe in getting the system in place, combating corruption, increasing transparency and improving the every day lives of the people of our city. I may not organise multimillion baht projects or do anything flashy, but that is not the top priority.

For the full interview please visit www.chiangmaicitylife.com, unfortunately we had no space for the interview in its entirety. To read her interview with Citylife in August 2007 please visit http://www.chiangmainews.com/ecmn/viewfa.php?id=1909.